- All's Well That Ends Well
This production elevated Shakespeare's comedy into an intense drama of great emotional power. A strong sense of personal development in Helena and Bertram gave added weight to their final reconciliation. On the surface, this was a simple, straightforward production, with few obvious concepts, but the overall effect was unexpectedly serious for a play usually performed with a lighter touch.
The set featured marble-like columns, joined together by platforms that stretched across the back of the stage. These platforms served as benches to sit on, as well as a place for the actors to stand. Indoor scenes [End Page 113] were often staged in the rectangular space, behind the platforms. The elegance of the design was consistent with the interior or exterior of a noble house. Plaintive French and Italian ballads were sung on stage by two male "street singers" and added to the serious tone of the play. A translucent backdrop helped convey a sense of place. For example, when Helena arrived in Florence, the backdrop showed the recognizable skyline of Florence, complete with the Medici Duomo.
Helena's journey and the struggle to fulfill the seemingly impossible commands of the husband who deserted her became a process of self-realization rather than a riddle simply to be solved. And in the end, Bertram must also prove worthy, not only for his own sake and Helena's, but also, for the people around him. The older generation—Bertram's mother, and his surrogate father, the King of France—had a stake in seeing the future realized through their children. Both the Countess and the King elevated deserving maidens, Helena and Diana, because their society needed lawful wives and legitimate heirs. This production reinforced that concern by the tragic pregnancies of Isbel and Mariana. In 1.3, when Lavatch, clown to the Countess, spoke of his "flesh and blood" and his desire to marry, Isbel appeared in front of them, heavy with child. But in 3.2, when Lavatch returned from the French court, he had lost interest in Isbel, and she appeared again, her face contorted with tears and distress. In Florence, the Widow's neighbor, Mariana, held a child in her arms, as she warned Diana of the "misery . . . that so terrible shows in the wrack of maidenhood." Mariana's tragic attitude implied that her baby was illegitimate.
These examples of ruined virginity added weight to the Widow's concern for her daughter, and their desperate need for a dowry. When Helena paid the Widow in 3.7, and promised her another "three thousand crowns" for Diana's help in tricking Bertram, the Widow seemed more prudent than mercenary. In retrospect, Helena's rhetorical contest with Parolles in 1.1, concerning the defense of virginity, now seemed more significant, and Bertram's attempt to seduce Diana more sinful and dangerous. This production implied a feminist conspiracy to defend the honest virgins, Helena and Diana, from the masculine designs of Bertram and Parolles. In 2.3, when Parolles helped convince Bertram to abandon Helena, and go "to th' wars!", the two men shared a bottle of whiskey. And in 3.7, when the Widow agreed to help Helena, the two women sealed their bargain with a drink.
But Helena needed more than just the Widow and Diana. This production emphasized the way all levels of society helped Helena and Bertram to...